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SQL Server on Linux signals Microsoft's changing development landscape

Expert Joey D'Antoni explains what SQL Server on Linux and the addition of some Enterprise Edition features to the database's Standard Edition say about the changing face of Microsoft.

As 2016 comes to a close, Microsoft is keeping SQL Server users busy with fresh announcements and new releases. SQL Server on Linux, now in public preview as part of the database's next release, brings together Microsoft and Linux in a way that would have been unimaginable until recently. SQL Server 2016's first service pack changed the game for Standard Edition users by adding some of Enterprise Edition's features. SearchSQLServer talked with SQL Server expert Joey D'Antoni, a principal consultant at Denny Cherry & Associates Consulting, about what these big announcements say about Microsoft and what to expect from SQL Server going forward.

Microsoft has added Enterprise Edition features to Standard Edition in SQL Server 2016 Service Pack 1. What do you think motivated this decision?

Joey D'Antoni: Mainly, the software vendors -- I think [Microsoft] wanted to drive adoption on some of the features that make SQL Server different from Postgres or MySQL. So, I think by encouraging software vendors to take advantage of these features, they better hook in with them.

To be honest, this kind of follows the model they've been using in Azure with the different support tiers. They all, for the most part, have different features in them. A couple of the lower-tier ones don't have columnstore and in-memory, but I think that's more of a resource issue than a feature issue. You have things like compression and partitioning across all environments. It's kind of a natural transference of Azure, basically.

When [SQL Server] 2016 launched, there were a lot of new features in Standard Edition. It's not like they've been really taking stuff out of Standard Edition or limiting things. They've done a lot with it in the last couple of releases. It's a place they are concerned about, I think.

Microsoft wasn't on friendly terms with Linux until recently. What does it mean that Microsoft is creating SQL Server on Linux now?

D'Antoni: It's just been a general trend since Satya [Nadella] took over [as CEO in 2014]. I think [former CEO Steve] Ballmer saw Linux as a threat and Satya realized that a lot of young engineers grew up only using Linux to program things. I think that's why we got SQL Server on Linux. There are a whole lot of other things, like Visual Studio for Mac. Microsoft just embraced open source really strongly.

I think you'll hear some people say that this was a play at Oracle, and I think it was a little bit, but ... it's aiming at getting younger developers and startups using a real database. I think part of it is that Standard Edition is relatively affordable and, if you put those nice features in your application, that really gives them a point of differentiation between Postgres and MySQL. Now that they're going forward on this, if it hurts Oracle on the way, I don't think anybody would be too upset about that.

It's really a very different Microsoft from what it was five years ago.
Joey D'Antoniprincipal consultant at Denny Cherry & Associates Consulting

The other kind of interesting thing that might have gotten lost in the Linux announcement is that they're also supporting SQL Server on Docker, which is also pretty cool for quick development. I set up Docker yesterday on my MacBook and I had SQL Server up and running in 10 minutes. That was pretty awesome.

I'm not a super Docker expert, [but] it's just pretty much SQL Server running in a container. I think it can allow developers to build applications that can be rapidly developed with SQL Server at the center of them. There's a big push at Microsoft to embrace Docker. They feel like it's a good technology, and I tend to agree with them. It's virtualization again, later, and just in smaller increments.

What do you think were the biggest and most influential events of 2016 for SQL Server and users of the database?

D'Antoni: The Linux release is probably the biggest. Someone else said this a while ago, and I think it was very well said: 'It's not so much that Microsoft will use SQL Server on Linux, so much as the changes that took place in Microsoft to allow them to build that, to build SQL Server on Linux' -- which is mainly Ballmer leaving and Satya being there. Seeing this huge organizational shift in Microsoft, I think that's really cool.

SQL Server 2016 was amazing. I think it was probably the biggest release of SQL Server since 2005 in terms of functionality changes. And here it is November, and we're not even talking about it now. We're talking about the Linux release and how they made Standard Edition pretty close to equal to Enterprise Edition. I think Microsoft continues to be a leader in the space, and they're pushing the envelope pretty far against Oracle and their competitors in the open source space.

How is Microsoft's organizational shift going to affect SQL Server?

D'Antoni: Since Ballmer left, you've had a company that's more driven by engineering than by sales. Sales are obviously important; without sales you don't have any engineering. But the people who are running the company now are largely engineers, and I think that's driving a lot of the decision-making and a lot of the paths they go down. One of the things they did was to not completely, but mostly, eliminate stack ranking. That allows teams to work tighter together developing features.

One of the things we had for a while with SQL Server, one of the organizational things, was to get your feature in the product above all costs, whereas now, they're working together more.

With SQL Server in the cloud, that's a tighter release cycle, getting features faster and getting more feedback on them. I think, obviously, that with the cloud, they can get more telemetry data and get a better idea of how people are using their product, and that goes back into engineering. Everything is just a shorter cycle.

What are your lessons learned for 2016?

D'Antoni: Everything can change pretty fast. The Standard Edition thing was a big surprise when I heard it. It wasn't that tremendous a surprise because we saw things trending in that direction, but I just feel like the company is trending toward being more open source and more open and taking more customer feedback. In general, it's really a very different Microsoft from what it was five years ago. You're seeing that in a lot of their products.

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